Washington Nationals: Check-in on Key Spring Storylines

jmoynihan
Joe Ross Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Joe Ross Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /
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The Washington Nationals are 5-9 through their first 14 Spring Training games.  While record and player performance during the spring has to be taken with a grain of salt, Monday’s off day seems like a good time to review key storylines up to this point.

The Number 5 Starter

Joe Ross, Austin Voth and Erick Fedde have all been terrific this spring, intensifying the competition for the 5th starter spot.  Ross and Fedde have identical 2.45 ERA’s through 7.1 innings.  While Voth has posted a 1.29 ERA through 7 innings.  Fedde leads the group in strikeouts with 7, and Joe Ross has given up the fewest hits (4).  It appears that Joe Ross is holding the early advantage, but there is still plenty left to see this spring before a decision is made.

Luis Garcia

Garcia, 19, is a top prospect for the Nationals, and has balled out early this spring.  He has 9 hits in 21 at-bats including a homer and 3 RBI.  It’d be a shock to see Garcia make the club at 19 years of age, especially with players like Jake Noll and Andrew Stevenson ahead of him, but his production has been terrific.

Carter Kieboom

Kieboom’s pursuit of the Opening Day roster has been a major story for the Nationals this spring.  His production has been up and down as he adjusts to a new position and Major League pitching.  At the plate, Kieboom has held his own.  He is hitting .250 with one extra base hit, but he has also walked six times.  His patience has awarded him with a .419 OBP.  The patience is great to see for a young player trying to make the roster.  He isn’t pressing at the plate, and is staying within himself.

Defensively there have been some issues.  Kieboom has committed three errors, and could have easily been awarded a fourth, but he got some luck from the scoring gods on a ball that went through his legs.

Wilmer Difo and Adrian Sanchez entered the spring as Kieboom’s biggest competition to making the roster.  Difo has struggled at the plate, but Sanchez has been productive, hitting .286 with a home run.

Emilio Bonifácio has also emerged as a potential candidate for the 26th roster spot.  Bonifácio is a bit of a swiss army knife, providing positional experience all over the diamond.  He has had a couple of big hits (including a walk-off) this spring and has posted a .292 average with 2 extra base hits and four RBI.

Bullpen

Okay, so the ‘pen hasn’t been great.

Ryne Harper, Kyle Finnegan, Hunter Strickland and Aaron Barrett are all competing for the final bullpen spots but each has an ERA over 5.00 this spring.   Meanwhile, Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson have given up 9 runs in 5.1 innings and Will Harris hasn’t pitched in a game this spring.

It’s early, I know, but my concerns about the bullpen remain and there has been very little done to ease those concerns this spring.

Health

Priority number one for the defending champions is to remain healthy, and so far that has been the case for the Nationals this spring.  Major League Baseball has seen a number of star players deal with injuries this so far, but the Nationals have been lucky enough to avoid the injury bug for the most part.

Justin Verlander left the Astros game Sunday due to tricep soreness, Eugenio Suarez is still making his way back from offseason surgery, Chris Sale is dealing with a flexor strain and it feels like everyday a new Yankee finds himself on the injury report.

For the Nationals, Adam Eaton and Will Harris have been dealing with minor issues, but both are hopeful to be ready by the start of the season.

The Nationals roster is loaded with veteran players so remaining healthy is a focal point of the spring session.

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